This study was published as a book chapter:

Freeman, Robert S. “Harper & Brothers’ Family and School District Libraries, 1830-1846.” In Libraries to the People: Histories of Outreach, edited by Robert S. Freeman and David M. Hovde, 26-49. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2003.


In the 1830s, at the dawn of mass-market publishing, J. & J. Harper of New York began publishing several libraries, including Harper’s Family Library and Harper’s School District Library. A “library” in this sense is a series or set of uniformly bound and uniformly priced books issued by the same publisher. A leading publisher and a major force in the broad religious and social reform movements of the period, the Harper brothers helped to shape education in American homes and schools. As Methodists they were advocates of reading for moral improvement. As innovative publishers, they made full use of the recent advances in transportation and printing technologies that facilitated mass-market publishing. Their marketing of inexpensive, portable libraries that offered moral and practical instruction resonated with families as well as with the superintendents of education in several states who at the time were persuading their legislatures of the need for tax-supported libraries. In consultation with educators and “gentlemen of high literary acquirements and correct taste,” the Harpers spent more than sixteen years developing these libraries and made it possible for many communities lacking selection expertise to purchase well-balanced collections. Although these libraries represent an effort to influence and make a profit on the education of the American masses, it was an effort welcomed by many, especially the social and educational reformers who agreed with the Harpers about the people’s need for cheap books that provided useful information and moral instruction.


Mass market publishing, 19th century, Portable libraries, Education, Harper & Brothers

Date of this Version